David Madden: Calm Seas, Flying Fish, and Bananas, July 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: Southeast Fishery Independent Survey

Geographic Area:
Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)

Pisces Location 7-16-19
Here’s a picture of where we have traveled today. You can see lots of zig zags, dropping fish traps and circling back to retrieve them.


Date: July 14, 2019


Science and Technology Log

I’ve now been on Pisces for 24 hours, and I’m amazed by the complexities and logistics of this ship. 

There are 32 souls on board; including 5 on deck, 6 engineers, 1 survey, 1 electronics, 7 NOAA Corps Officers, 2 stewards, and 10 scientists. It takes a well-coordinated, highly-trained group to keep things ship-shape.  We have had two safety and drill meetings so far – highlighting the importance of preparedness while at sea.  The three divisions on our emergency station bill are: Fire and Emergency, Man Overboard, and Abandon Ship.  So far we have done an abandon ship drill, where I tried on my survival suit.  Oh boy.  It fit just fine.  Except the hands and gloves part.  For the life of me I could not get my hands to fit through the openings.  Perhaps it’ll take a life or death situation.  See for yourself:

survival suit
TAS David Madden tries on a survival suit

During the Abandon Ship exercise we gathered next to our Life Rafts.  We discussed situations and protocols and how to get the raft over the side and our bodies into the raft.  We also learned about some of the survival gear within; including fishing gear (to keep folks occupied), knife, sea anchor, flares, and sea sickness pills to be taken immediately. Number one lesson – head into a real Abandon Ship well-fed and well-hydrated; you won’t be getting any water for the first 24 hours (to avoid throwing it back up, and to allow the body to acclimate to its new conditions, and because heck, you can probably go the first day without water, so why not save it?) It all reminded me of a book I read years ago called, “Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea” by Steven Callahan. 

Life boat instructions
Life boat instructions

My day consists of helping out the scientists with their fish count.  This means baiting the fish traps with menhaden, dropping them off the back of the ship at the prescribed locations, circling back around 75-90 minutes later to scoop them back up.  This is followed by chronicling the different fish caught – some are tossed back to the sea, others are kept for all sorts of further data collection (more soon).  There’s so much crazy cool data being collected on this ship.  I thought you’d like to see some of it.  Here’s a diagram I made and I’ll try to include each post that highlights the fish counts.  I redrew fish diagrams based off of the fish in the handy book, “Reef Fish Identification” by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach.  I thought you’d also like to see what these fish look like.  *Keep in mind that this first day was pretty low in fish count due to our location. 

Fish Count day 1
NOAA Pisces SEFIS Fish Count, July 16, 2019



Personal Log

This is now my fourth day on the ship.  My journey began around 9:20 am Sunday with a ride to the airport.  From there I jumped on a flight from TLH to Charlotte. Followed by a steamy flight to New Bern, NC and a 45 minute drive to Morehead City, NC.  There I met up with NOAA scientist, Nate Bacheler who showed me around the ship and introduced me to everybody on board.  Starting Monday morning the rest of the crew, including all of the scientists, started showing up.  I’ve been getting used to life aboard a research vessel and loving the view!

General Updates:

  1. The seas have been calm, and so far, no seasickness. 
  2. The food has been delicious – thank you Dana and Rey. 
  3. So far my favorite animal is the flying fish.  I’ve seen dozens – my next task is to figure out how to get some epic footage. 
  4. The science team is very dedicated, interesting, diverse, hardworking, and super smart!  Stay tuned for interviews. 

Neato Facts =

NOAA Ship Pisces can travel at speeds up to 18.4 mph (16 knots). How fast is that?  Let’s compare it to two famous marine organisms.

Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish
Pisces vs Great White and Jelly Fish


Yesterday I ate a banana.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.  Even though I didn’t buy the banana or bring the banana onboard, some folks looked at me sideways.  They said, “Do you know what it means to have a banana on a boat?!” and “Be sure to ask your students why it’s a bad idea to have bananas on a boat”.  So I got to asking around and turns out that bananas and boats don’t mix well in the land of the superstitious.  Supposedly, bananas cause bad luck, and many seasoned sailors refuse to let them on their boats.  So far no bad luck… but then again, today has been a low fish count day (see diagram above).  Might be my fault!

It’s only been two day and already my mind is spinning with interesting information, undecipherable acronyms, and new nautical terms.  Stay tuned for: interviews, fish count background and techniques, swim bladder chemistry, tour of the ship, and survey science.  What else would you like to learn about?  Coming up:  What’s a knot?!  Please post questions and comments below!

David Madden: Preparing for Pisces 2019, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Preparing to Board NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15 – 29, 2019


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)

Date: July 11, 2019

NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Introductory Post

Personal Log:

Hello friends,

My name is David Madden. I am a high school science teacher at Maclay School in Tallahassee, FL, and I’m getting ready to go on my NOAA Teacher at Sea cruise! I recently completed my 21st year teaching – it’s been a super fun journey. I am as excited heading into year 22 as I was in years 1-5. I’ve been in love with nature since I can remember.

Madden Science logo
Madden Science logo

Over the course of my career I’ve taught: AP Biology, regular Biology, Physics, Integrated Science (bio, chem, phys combined), and Marine Biology. This upcoming year I will also be teaching AP Environmental Science. I’ve loved every minute of my job – teaching and learning with students, challenging myself and being challenged by my friends and colleagues, and exploring new adventures – like NOAA Teacher at Sea. Along the way I’ve also been a coach, helping kids learn the value of sports, including: volleyball, basketball, tennis, and track.

Over the last few years I’ve started making educational videos for my students – as a way for them to further develop their love of science and grow their scientific literacy: Madden Science on YouTube and www.maddenscience.com.

Madden family
The hardest part of the trip will be missing these two!

Starting on July 15th, 2019, I will be aboard NOAA Ship Pisces as part of the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS). The mission of the cruise will be to conduct “applied fishery-independent sampling with chevron fish traps and attached underwater video cameras, and catch rates and biological data from SEFIS are critical for various stock assessments for economically important reef fishes along the southeast US Atlantic coast.” It’s an amazing opportunity for me to participate in important scientific research. I have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the best scientists in the world.

Pisces Picture Wikipedia
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There are so many things about NOAA Teacher at Sea that I’m looking forward to. Here’s a few:

  1. Spending time out on the ocean, experiencing the energy and power of the wild sea.
  2. Working with and learning from some of the world’s leading oceanic and atmospheric scientists.
  3. Learning about fish and marine biodiversity in the Atlantic.
  4. Asking tons of questions and hopefully learning more about the ocean and its central importance in our changing world.
  5. Sharing my experience with you; my family, friends, students, and the public.   I’ll share this adventure via this blog and also via videos I hope to create while on NOAA Ship Pisces. My goal is for these blog posts and videos to serve as a real-time record of the cruise, to be helpful and interesting right now, and also to help serve as resources for my classes and other classrooms around the world.

Neato Fact:

NOAA Ship Pisces is 209 feet (64 meters) long. To give you an idea, that’s basically 70% of a football field. That’s longer than two blue whales (~90 feet), the largest and longest animal to ever live! Usain Bolt can run that far in 6.13 seconds (assuming 9.58 s for 100 m). A starfish, traveling at 60 feet/hour, would take about 3.5 hours to travel the length of Pisces.

Madden Pisces diagram
NOAA Ship Pisces is 209 ft long.

I’d love it if you could join in with me on this adventure – please comment and ask questions. I’ll do my best to respond in a helpful and interesting way!